BY PALOMA LACY
One of the most exciting things about turning 18 was the added air of sophistication it gave me. Or so I thought.
Ordering wine while dining out was no longer done in muttered tones, fingers crossed, butterflies in my stomach, hoping the waitress wouldn’t clock my baby face.
I could request that glass of wine, loudly and proudly. Twenty-five years ago, my brother and I trotted off to one of the hotspots of the moment, Belgo Centraal.
Set in a Covent Garden basement, designed to look and feel like a Belgian abbey, where monks brewed their own beer, I remember food being rather low on our priority list.
I recall a share bowl and moules and frites – the restaurant’s stock in trade, but we came for the beer. This was light years ahead of the craft beer revolution, and we ploughed our way through the Trappist delights from pale to dark to wheat and back again.
Fast forward to 2019 and a visit to Belgo in Bromley, and my how things and indeed my life have changed. This time, my party included a friend and my baby daughter, so food was the only thing on everyone’s minds.
An infrequent visitor to Bromley, we headed for the Glades Shopping Centre and past the usual high-end chain restaurants, with directions to disappear outside for more options.
A nice little walk through pretty green open space, not quite a park, more of a garden but a refreshing change from shopping centre strip lighting, and we’d arrived.
I immediately spotted what looked like a Campaign For Real Ale chapter meeting – a group of people huddled around the bar comparing what was on tap, some making notes.
This is serious business, considering that it was only just approaching lunchtime. While not our reason for visiting, this place takes its beers very seriously, as do the beer drinkers who flock to it. We left them to it, mustered up a high chair for the little one and sat at our table.
Despite the bar having such prominence, the restaurant is still family friendly, and our noon sitting had attracted quite a few tribes – stereotypically, dad enjoying a beer with his lunch.
Unsurprisingly, mussels loom large on this Belgian menu, and who knew there were so many flavours? I could only think of two, both French, but here you’ve 11 to choose from.
We didn’t go down the ‘moule & frites’ route, but Green Thai and Bacon and Beer looked particularly inviting.
We decided to share two starters – cheese & beer croquettes with an apple and ale chutney (£5.95) and King Prawns (£7.25).
Cheese and beer is a winning combination, and even better to get all the flavour of the beer with all the alcohol burned off in the cooking process.
The croquettes weren’t as deeply filled as I might have expected, in fact some of the inner seemed to have evaporated. No bad thing as it created the most delectable crunchy breadcrumb shell.
Six juicy prawns arrived, shell on, on skewers, and served with a fresh and zesty mango, chilli and red onion salsa.
What came next, admittedly after a little wait – but my was it worth it and also signal to some proper cooking having been involved – was genuinely the largest burger I’ve ever been served.
No word of a lie. Buttermilk Chicken Burger (£11.95) is certainly not a new one on me, but this is the finest specimen I’ve eaten in a long time and could have fed two people.
Spicy marinated chicken thigh served with baby gem, tomato, red onion, pickled gherkins and spicy Andalouse sauce – a sort of spicy mayonnaise.
I knew the Belgians loved their pickled cucumbers or gherkins, but they don’t insult you by including a few measly circular slices, like most places. Instead they take a pickle, slice it long ways and stick both halves for full juicy effect. This is my kind of cuisine.
Aside from the fish options, the rest of the menu is pretty meat based, rotisseries chicken and steak, though there are a few vege and vegan dishes. My friend was very happy with rack of pork ribs, served with fries and coleslaw for a respectable £16.95.
The Belgo slaw, as it’s called, is a mix of radish, celeriac, red chicory, chilli, spring onion with spicy mayo and coriander cress. Kids eat for free, so my little one feasted on fish and chips, with sweetcorn and peas, which she thoroughly enjoyed.
The dessert choice before lunch began was an obvious one, Belgian waffle, but as my friend said: “How could anyone manage that after the generous lunch we’ve just had?” Her solution: some mini doughnuts to share.
Paloma was a guest of Belgo – The Glades, High Street, Bromley, BR1 1DN